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In a previous article Business Analysis Viewpoints, we discussed a number of ways of looking at systems. The intention of these viewpoints is to make it easier to see and understand the real business problem. This article focuses on the fourth viewpoint, the Future-How, which looks at the solution to the business problem. It does this by assessing alternatives and then choosing the best solution to that real business problem.
Identifying alternative solutions
Let’s suppose that you have done enough analysis to identify the real business problem. In the previous article mentioned above, we investigated the problem of removing fallen leaves from footpaths in autumn. Leaves need to be removed as quickly as possible – leaves can be dangerous and slippery, especially in wet weather (it’s autumn remember). The intention is to make the footpaths as safe as possible for pedestrians and thereby avoid accidents caused by slippery leaves.
Instead of fixing the first solution that comes to mind, it makes sense to come up with a number of alternatives. By so doing, better solutions will probably emerge. Then you must be able to make valid comparisons and choose the most appropriate before defining its detailed requirements.
Some solution ideas for speeding up leaf removal might be:
Probing your solutions
In order to choose between your ideas for alternative solutions, you can explore each one using a technique called Safe-to-Fail Probes. These are quick, small-scale experiments aimed at establishing the viability and acceptability of solutions. As the name suggests, if a solution fails, then very little is lost. The proposed solution was only a sketch and discarding it does not affect the project in any way.
Before probing a proposed solution, bring it to life. Illustrate it just enough to compare it with the other ideas. Use a mixture of sketches – possibly some kind of annotated rich picture, or process models – along with your probing questions. You are asking questions that probe the proposed solution for its pros and cons. You are testing the solution for feasibility and workability, along with its economics and conformance to constraints.
Here are some examples of safe to fail probes using the proposed solutions for the leaf removal problem.
Proposed solution 1: schedule and deploy the leaf clearing teams in advance based on predicting when the leaves will fall.
You can make the idea more specific by sketching a leaf clearing schedule and use it to help think of questions:
Proposed solution 2: eliminate the leaves by cutting down the deciduous trees and replacing them with evergreens.
This would avoid the necessity to clear leaves.
Proposed solution 3: introduce leaf vacuum machines to remove the leaves more quickly and bag them all in one operation.
Proposed solution 4: provide an incentive for members of the public to clear the leaves. Make leaf bags available and pay a bounty for each full bag of leaves.
By sketching, questioning and probing your alternative solutions you bring them to life and identify the solution or solutions that are the best fit for your problem.
After probing the leaf removal solution ideas with a variety of stakeholders, we have decided to go ahead with solution idea 3: introduce leaf vacuum machines to remove the leaves more quickly and bag them all in one operation. We have also decided to take some ideas from solution 1 and make better use of long-range forecasts when scheduling the leaf removal teams.
Defining the solution space
Now, as the first step to identifying the detailed requirements, you can sketch out the scope of your chosen solution space. Use business events (covered in the first article in this series) to identify the functional chunks of the solution Then use the business events to prioritise your work of building the solution. Here’s a diagram that summarises our intended solution scope after having done some safe-to-fail probes.
Using business events to partition the solution space identifies six events:
Then, depending on your goals, you choose the highest priority event and work on discovering the detailed requirements and developing the solution. For example, you might choose to start with event 5 because having an accurate schedule is so central to making the solution work. Or perhaps you start with event 1 because you want to learn more about how you will respond to weather forecasts of differing severity.
In this article and the previous one in this series, we have introduced techniques for taking a number of viewpoints. Having the ability to look at the same problem from different points of view means that you have the focus to come up with more innovative ideas. Another plus is that it is much easier to plan and respond to changes.